Photos courtesy of Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadow
This winter has been a crazy one. Up and down in the east and tons of snow in the west. Normally, you would think that getting a lot of snow is exactly what ski resorts want. But, too much snow can present a lot of problems. These problems have been getting highlighted by Andy Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley, recently.
As Wirth pointed out, this winter has been a historic winter for Squaw Valley. They have received “more snow through early March than any other season since these mountains have been open for skiing – more snow and intense weather than has been seen in over sixty years”. While this has given Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows some amazing conditions and the ability to plan being open until July 4, it has given them multiple problems that Wirth and his staff are committed to solving.
One of the toughest problems Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows (and the whole Sierra Region) has faced is how fierce the storms have been. These storms have been bringing in high winds (20-30 mph) at the base. Speeds are significantly higher on upper parts of the mountain. These wind speeds are causing safety issues for the chairlifts. Naturally, Squaw Valley can’t control the wind. So, they have concentrated their efforts in being able to open the mountains more quickly and safely.
With huge snowfall comes potential avalanches and Wirth and his staff have launched an Avalanche Mitigation Program that uses a fairly new technology called Gazex. According to Wirth, “These devices allow us to remotely mitigate avalanche hazard at times when we are unable to send in control teams and also allow us to mitigate snow surface hazards post-sunset and pre-sunrise, time frames where the federal regulatory agencies don’t allow the legal deployment of more commonly used devices”. These devices will save time and keep their staff safe. In addition, they have started using drones to help with avalanche control allowing quick access to dangerous areas when weather allows flight to occur.
Another problem they are addressing are roads and transit so people can safely get to and from the resort and also without the traffic. Wirth points out that with the fabulous skiing and riding comes people who want to enjoy it. This has increased traffic to the mountain. But, this is not a new problem. It has existed since the opening of Squaw Valley 60 years ago. Wirth and their executive team has been pushing for regional mass transit solutions. Even though the government process has been very slow, they have become more receptive to solutions including an Intra Valley Transit system and changes to alleviate congestion on highway 89 by modifying lane usage to be more efficient.
That's a lot of snow!
Have you ever heard of a ski resort melting snow? Well, there has been so much snow at Squaw Valley that they needed to bring in the snow melt trucks to make space for parking. Due to the snow, as much as 20 – 25% of parking had been overtaken by snow as they make room for the other parking areas. Initially they tried to move the snow by hauling it with tractor trailers and semi-tractor trailers to other areas, but they have run out of room. The next solution is a snow melter which they have been using for the last couple of weeks.
Andy Wirth and the entire staff at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows has been working hard this winter not only to get the mountain prepared for regular visitors, but also in hosting the World Cup. With anticipated skiing until July, Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows will be a choice destination for those who just can’t get enough skiing and riding.